Take a Trip Back in Time to the “Tori Amos Bootleg Webring”

"Practically every queer person I know of my generation has some kind of affinity for Tori Amos," says author Megan Milks.

Now is an exciting time to be a Toriphile, a.k.a. a fan of Tori Amos. The fiery piano siren recently announced a new album, Ocean to Ocean, her first since 2017’s Native Invader.

It’s been almost 30 years since Amos’s debut solo record, but Toriphiles, including many queer folks, have been obsessed with her since day one. The new book Tori Amos Bootleg Webring (Remember the Internet Vol. 2) by Megan Milks explores a niche corner of the internet where rabid Amos fans traded bootlegs of her live shows in the late ’90s and early 2000s, long before you could easily upload them to YouTube or stream them on Spotify.

Megan spoke with Logo about revisiting the Tori bootleg scene from back in the day, why they think queer people are so drawn to Amos and her music, and what exactly a webring is.

Instar Books

One reason I loved your book is that I saw so much of myself in it, as someone who started loving Tori around the time of the webring. But for the children reading this interview, what is a bootleg webring?

Well, let me start by explaining what a webring is. Webrings were antecedents to social media in a way. Way back when before we had Google, search engines were just not very smart and you couldn’t really find the things that you were looking for. So a lot of people who were trying to find a community or were trying to participate in fandoms, they would find each other through guest book registrations on people’s homepages. In the Tori community, The Dent was the big site where there were lots of people who had registered on Dent’s guestbook — they would find each other through that. And then the webring was an innovation that some people think it was inspired by GeoCities. It was a way to bring together different website. You could go to one website that was in a fan community or other kinds of communities and click on the webring button, which people would put at the bottom of their pages, and find another related website that was in that same topical or thematic interest. It was a way to create community when it was hard to do that.

I hadn’t thought about the webring in so many years. But when I was reading your book, I totally remembered scrolling down to the bottom of those pages and clicking to the next site on those Tori webrings. It brought back so many memories.

Yeah, I don’t think the webring has been historicized properly, so this is my contribution. And there’s much more one can say about webrings as a tool. But I was really trying to narrow it down to this specific community.

Backing up, how did you get introduced to Tori? Your friend had you listen to Under the Pink, right?

Yeah, my friend Mareen, on the school bus one day, when I was a freshman or sophomore, just shared her headphones with me and played “Pretty Good Year” from Under the Pink. It was a spiritual experience, and I never looked back.

Michel Linssen/Redferns

Why do you think queer people and maybe people who view themselves as outcasts are so drawn to Tori?

That’s a great question.

Because we kind of all migrate towards her.

Yeah, and I’m curious to what extent that remains true for her newer work. But definitely, it seems like within our generation, it is the case that a lot of queer people have a relationship to Tori and her music. I think there’s just so much expressive intensity in her music, which for many of us gave us an emotional zone in which we could process our own intense, probably unexpressed feelings. She also clearly loves and cares for her fans, and is deeply weird, too, in an unapologetic yet earnest way — I think we just feel really safe with her.

In the book, you say Tori shows are “non-sexual.” I never thought that about that because usually if people don’t really know Tori, they think of her humping the piano bench or something.

Yeah. You know, her songs are often about sex and desire, but that space of the concert and her performances, I feel like we’re all there and we’re all vibrating together but it’s this very separate thing. We’re all having our separate, individual experiences. It’s not really a cruising space… and I don’t know, it just feels very spiritual.

Going back to the webrings, how did you get involved in bootleg trading?

I think it was this missed opportunity that my friend Chris and I had. We had plans to go to the sneak-preview show at the 9:30 Club [in Washington, D.C.] in 1998, and it just fell through and we couldn’t go and it was so devastating. But then someone made a bootleg available to us. And getting that bootleg, it was such a gift to be able to experience it vicariously. It just opened up this whole world of Tori live, which I don’t think either of us had really understood what the concert experience was like, that her songs really evolved and every show was different. And so that just opened the door and made us hungry for other shows. We learned about how to get them and then joined the Tori Boot ListServ, and starting exploring, started arranging trades.

What’s your favorite album of hers? And has it changed over the years?

Boys For Pele, definitely my number one. And as I discuss in the book, it was a slow burn. It’s so challenging. But once you break the code, you never go back. As for other favorites, I have certain relationships to so many of her albums, but Boys For Pele is the one that has stuck very intensely, deeply. I love it and always will.

Is there a Tori bootleg you would recommend that you think is a really great show or a really great bootleg new fans of hers should check out?

My favorite bootlegs are always the ones that I have personal connections to. So I don’t know that I have a great answer for that, but there are just so, so many amazing shows for one thing. And the archive is vast at this point. You can basically find almost any show. One of my personal favorites would be the August 1998 Richmond show. For me, the Clubs tour is the ultimate tour. It’s just so wild and rocking. A lot of those shows, for me, are my favorites. But in particular, the August ’98 show which I was present for, which was my first Tori show. She also played a lot of B-sides. We were really lucky. She played “Siren,” “Mary,” “Playboy Mommy,” and some things that were lesser-played on that tour. It was just so exciting to be there.

Do you have a favorite Tori show or event that you’ve been to? You mentioned the Richmond show.

The Richmond show, and really every show [of hers] I’ve been to. I haven’t been to that many, to be honest. Oh — I’ll mention the December 2011 [show]. That’s the last show I went to and that was in Chicago. And that was a really important show to me because I hadn’t seen her live in 10 years or something. Some friends of mine, we had all come out as former Tori fans to each other, so they got me a ticket for that show, which was such a wonderful gift. It really resuscitated my love of Tori’s music and of the community. She’s just such an extraordinary performer, and it was just a really amazing concert.

Tori Amos Bootleg Webring (Remember the Internet Vol. 2) is available now from Instar Books.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
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